Structure: The Building Blocks of Success

If I asked you what your organization’s structure looked like, how would you respond? Is it rigid and hierarchical, or fluid and flexible? Like the bones in the human body, your organization’s structure is what gives it form and allows it to carry out its mission. Break a bone, and you’re going to have serious problems moving forward and reacting to new challenges.

Of course, different types of organizations need different kinds of structures. However, there are certain qualities that every organization can strive for. In Adaptive Capacity, Juan Carlos Eichholz writes that, “all organizations need a structure, just as the human body needs a skeleton. In both cases, the challenge is to have the necessary degree of control with as little rigidity as possible, a combination that maximizes the organism’s adaptive capacity.” When challenges arise, it is crucial that the structure of your organization facilitates rather than hampers its ability to respond. This means having enough rigidity to maintain order but also being flexible enough to get the right people on the job in the least amount of time.

When trying to implement an organizational structure that maximizes your organization’s adaptive capacity, Eichholz suggests taking five key steps. They are:

  1. Decentralize decision-making practices
  2. Add greater flexibility to procedures and activities
  3. Use steering committees to keep employees engaged
  4. Encourage intrapreneurship
  5. Use external rather than internal networks where possible

You’ll notice that this process involves looking beyond the organization itself and looking at how it is embedded into an existing ecosystem—in other words, how it relates to clients, suppliers, competitors, etc. These connections must also be strong, or the bones of your organization will crumble.

Nonetheless, there are many ways in which organizations tend to avoid making the kinds of structural changes that enhance adaptive capacity. However, there’s a relatively simple though not necessarily easy way to stay on track: ask members of the organization—at all levels, not just those in management positions—“What would you do?”

This is a great way to not only disrupt existing hierarchies, but also to foster innovation, creativity, and trust. It’s a simple but powerful question, and it takes courage to listen to the answer.

So, let me ask you—how would you change your organization’s structure if it were up to you? I’d love to discuss it with you. You can reach me via my website, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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